Apple, Not Flash, Might Be In Trouble

As the so-called Apple vs. Adobe war continues, the consensus that Apple is winning out and that Adobe (Flash in particular) is in trouble has begun to crumble. A recent New York Times article, Will Apple’s Culture Hurt the iPhone?, raised some very interesting questions about Apple and the long-term prospects for its closed development environment. They (and we here at Ideum) are wondering:

Can Apple, which insists on tight control of its devices, win in an intensely competitive market against rivals that are openly licensing their software to scores of companies?

Back to the Future
If history is any judge, the long-term prospects might not be so great for Apple facing such intense and wide-spread competition. As the Times article also mentioned . . .

“In the early 1980s, the Macintosh faced an onslaught of competition from an army of PC makers whose products ran Microsoft software. The fight did not end well for Apple.”

I agree. I’ve been an Apple user and enthusiast since the 1980s. Not even counting my family’s Apple II, I’ve owned a dozen Macintosh computers since the release of the Mac Plus back in the 1980s. I’ve seen a lot of highs and lows in the 25 years that I’ve followed Apple.

Besides using history as a guide, my recent move from an iPhone to an Android phone has further convinced me that Apple will likely be a niche player in a market that they now dominate. My HTC EVO with Android 2.2 does most of the things my iPhone did and it does many things better. It also runs Flash.  (Yes, I can actually see the entire Internet now and am glad to have the option.) Apparently, my Android phone purchase was part of a larger trend as Android has now passed both BlackBerry and iOS in recent purchases.

Development: iPhone vs. Android
Our recent experience in developing our first iPhone App and Android “tests” with Flash have further reinforced my belief that even with Apple’s huge lead, in the long-term, it may be in trouble.  The iPhone development environment was challenging. Although ultimately workable (check out our Space Weather Media Viewer app), it was a frustrating process with many seemingly unnecessary bureaucratic hoops that we had to jump through.  And the majority of our frustrations with iOS have to do with publishing.

iPhone development required an official iPhone Development Certificate, iTunes software to connect to, and other restrictions. We had a ten day wait until our application was released in the Apple iTunes store. We needed to make a simple text change to our icon, and are currently in our second ten-day waiting period (and counting) just to make that one change. The application is, by the way, free and public domain, but still the store is the only way (short of jailbreaking) to distribute it.

When we did some test authoring using Flash on the Android platform, we could try out the application by emailing it or installing it via USB. There weren’t development certificates or other restrictions to deal with. We could author in Flash, make some adjustments in the Android SDK, and we were good to go. While we haven’t put anything into the Android market place yet, we’ve heard that the process is simpler (although the grass is always greener). But judging simply by the nature of the authoring environment, it seems that there are alternatives for distribution that simply aren’t available when authoring for iOS.

Going Forward
Many arguments against Flash have to do largely with performance. This is not a real issue on my HTC EVO; Flash performs reasonably well. Perfect, no, but again I’m glad to have it. Battery use is another issue, but lots of activities (wireless, screen brightness, playing audo, etc.) can contribute to reduced battery life.

As mobile processors continue to improve and Adobe (slowly, painfully slowly) improves Flash performance, I think we’ll see more choices for authoring for smart phones and tablets. And Flash will have a role to play; its developer base is just too vast and it’s too versatile a tool for it not to be a major player. Many people thought Flash video was dead back in the mid-2000s when it faced competition from Apple QuickTime, RealMedia, and WindowsMedia. Remember how that turned out?

Certainly HTML 5 could be an authoring solution in the future, but right now there are plenty of questions surrounding it. The W3C themselves said it was “Not Ready for Production Yet.” Also, it may be that in the future you’ll author HTML5 using Adobe Flash.

Going forward, I have a hard time seeing how iOS can continue to dominate. As I mentioned earlier, it is not so much about iOS authoring, but rather how things are published. A byzantine publishing platform that requires Steve’s way (iTunes) or the Highway, coupled with a tightly controlled and proprietary hardware platform, is hardly a progressive model.

If this model didn’t work for Apple back in the 80s, why should it now?

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